|The MSX System is an old home-computer system that originally appeared back in 1982. The general idea was to create a standard in home computing (something the world had not seen before at that time) which would be for both software and hardware. A program from one MSX should under all circumstances be able to run on another MSX with the same capacity. Same goes for hardware, your Toshiba external diskdrive should be connected to your Sony MSX without giving any problems. The MSX standard was incredibly popular in Asia (Japan, Korea), South America (Brazil), Europe (Belgium, England, France, Spain, the Netherlands) and in the former Soviet Union. In the USA however, the entire system was, and is, virtually unknown.|
|After the release of the MSX - later called MSX1 - system in 1982, the MSX2 standard came to life in the year 1985. The entire system was basically the same as the MSX1, but it was now equipped with a memory mapping system (Allowing for a - theoretical- total of 64MB), but standard equiped with 64 kB (Japan) or 128 kB (Europe) RAM. A diskdrive became more or less standard. In stead of those ugly 5"25 diskdrives IBM PCs had, the MSX had a 3"5 (modern) diskdrive, with a capacity uf up to 720 kB! The Video Display Processor (VDP) had been replaced by the V9938, allowing for 256 colors on a 256*212 pixel screen. A revolution at that time! Even the PCs at that time couldn't do what the MSX could, at least not at those friendly prices.|
|In 1988 the MSX2+ was released. Again, a revolution. Unfortunately, the MSX2 system was entirely copied, apart from the VDP. This meant the same -slow- 8/16 bit (or 8bit) processor and the new VDP also suffered from low data-transfer rates. The display power of the VDP however was unmatched. 131072 colors on a 256*212 pixel screen. However, because the designers decided to put these capacities in the same amount of Video RAM, there are some major disadvantages. This makes it very hard to draw good graphics at these screens. Also, most MSX2+ computers came with a built-in MSX -Music soundchip, which for that time sounded impressive. This 6 channel soundchip is nowadays the most used and widely available soundcard on MSX...|
|In 1991 The last MSX extension was released, the MSX Turbo-R. This MSX type was -again- basically the same as the MSX2+, but now finally with a better processor. The R800 processor has a clock speed of 7.16Mhz (twice as fast as the Z80) and has the ability to multiply bytes and words. This makes it a fast 8/16/32bit processor (or just 8bit, depends on your definition). Despite the fact that it only runs on 7.16MHz, the R800 is actually a lot faster than the Z80. Because all instructions are handled faster internally (fewer cycles required per instruction) an R800 will perform a lot faster than a Z80 on the same clock speed. In general, an R800 will prove to be 5-10 times as fast as a Z80.|
MSX computers were produced by major companies like Daewoo, Kyocera, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, Yamaha and so on... One model was released in the States by SpectraVideo, needless to say it hopelessly failed... The MSX system was basically never used for company use, simply because the system was not designed for this. MSX computers were home-computers, and at home is where they perform best. Due to is near-perfect BASIC, it was quite easy to program, and those who wanted to give ML (Machine Language) a shot almost always surprised themselves. An MSX computer is a clear computer, easy to program, easy to use, and easy to get great results with. Due to the fact that the system is not complex, you can obtain stunning results, with very little code. An MSX will perform far better than it's specs would make you believe. Because an MSX basically can not be programmed in C (the results would be too slow), ML is always only the solution. And because ML is the only programming language used, the result are always good! On an MSX computer, a good C programmer will get no better results than a lousy ML programmer...
MSX did good at home, but also in the classroom. Many schools throughout the world used MSX computers for many educational purposes, Russia being the best example of this. Groups of 10-20 MSX computers were linked in a small network allowing students to work together on this great system. To tell you something more amazing... The Soviet union actually have an MSX computer in space!! On the MIR space station a Sony HB900 circles the earth to keep track of atmospheric conditions... Try finding an IBM PC or Commodore in space...
The hardware found in an MSX is different in almost every model. The processor however was never changed until the MSX Turbo-R was released. All MSX models run on a Z80a CPU, at 3.58Mhz. The Turbo-R uses a 7.16Mhz R800, but, as said, it is a lot faster than 7.16Mhz suggests. The video hardware ranges from the TI9918 and TI9928 used in the MSX1 models, the V9938 used in the MSX2 models and the V9958 used in the MSX2+ models (a Turbo-R is usually seen as an MSX2+). Later the V9990 display processor was introduced, a VDP with fabulous abilities. Though it was not specifically designed for the MSX system, it may be connected to an MSX.
The audio part is handled by the PSG (Programmable Sound Generator) or the AY-3-8910 chip. This chip provides the basic sound generation in the system, more or less for the standard bleeping and sound effects. Three channels of sound plus a rustle channel are available and the chip also provides for some basic I/O like the joystick ports on the system. For advanced sound however, the MSX-Music system (OPLL) and the MSX-Audio (a sort of predecessor of Yamaha's OPL2, known on PCs) system should be used. Both provide 9 channels of synthesized sound, but the MSX-Audio can supply independent software voices (ie. you can make your own instruments) on all channels and a sample channel. These chips can more or less be compared to a soundblaster system. Later the OPL-4 chip was adapted to serve the MSX system, which enables even better sound options.
Due to the structure of the MSX system it is extremely suitable for home-computing, educational purposes and amusement. Many fantastic games have been written for the system, many people grew up with the system in the classroom, and whole generations of programmers grew up with this system. Despite of it's tragic 'death' (round 1987/1988 in Europe, in Japan some 4 years later) it is still a system many people use, and enjoy...
© 1998 FD-Productions, all rights reserved